This past weekend, I went to the Atlanta Xbox One Tour, where I was able to see the new console in action, and even got some hands on time with it. There were multiple stations set up, with a variety of games ranging from Forza 5 to Battlefield 4 to Peggle. Here were my thoughts of the titles, and the hardware:
If nothing else, they made a big deal about the controller. In the center of the exhibit floor, they had a row of custom designed Xbox One controllers, each with a different theme and style. Some were goofy and fun, others were hardcore and intense - probably some sort of subtle statement that the Xbox One can be a good fit regardless of your tastes.
Practically, however, I did not love the controller. It felt like an awkward hybrid of the original Xbox and Xbox 360 controllers. Trigger placement was perfect and largely unchanged from the Xbox 360 controller. However, the grips are much more angular than the 360 controller, which has smooth rounded edges that make it comfortable in your hands. Personally, I felt like this angular version was less comfortable to hold. I was also surprised by how much smaller it felt, from the overall size of the controller to the much narrower thumb sticks. It was functional, but my hands weren't comfortable and I foresee my hands getting tired and cramped after a while. Maybe I am just attached to the 360 controller and my opinion could change over time, but I think this new controller is an unfortunate step backwards.
The Xbox One console itself actually took up a lot less room than I honestly thought it would. All the photos and footage I'd seen so far made it seem like bulky brick, roughly similar to a VCR in size and shape. It's closer in size to the original Xbox 360, but nowhere near as big as the first Xbox. Not that it's physical dimensions would make or break it - just food for thought. I don't think any of the demos took full advantage of the Xbox One's graphical capabilities - many of them looked marginally better than their current gen counterparts. That said, many developers are just now fully utilizing the graphical capabilities of the Xbox 360. Given time we can expect improvements with the Xbox One as well.
HANDS ON GAME TIME
Ryse: Son of Rome
Contrary to some of the initial reactions, Ryse is not just a bunch of Quick Time Events (QTEs). I had a
chance to play around in a solo version of the Arena mode, where I went head to ahead against swarms of barbarians. All in all, it was a lot of fun - dismemberment and shield bashes were rampant.
Graphics and sound were good, albeit only slightly better than current gen counterparts. The roar of the crowd pounded in your ears (courtesy of the headphones) and the arena and blood splatters were in a crisp HD. No complaints about any of it, it looked and sounded good.
It handled like a slower, bulkier version of PlayStation's God of War. Tap X for a sword attack, Y for a Push attack (in this case a shield slam). Hit B to dodge, and you get the rest. Attacks had some weight to them, it took some time to wind up for that slash or shield attack, and you could hold down the button for an even stronger version. Overall it forced me to be smarter about when I attacked, and when I waited for openings. Timing is everything in Ryse.
Well... I only had to be marginally smarter. Overall, I thought the enemy AI was pretty bad. Scattered around the course were numerous traps (which conveniently had labels of what they were - fire traps, stakes, etc.) and the enemy AI would haphazardly dive right in. After a while, I realized that all I had to do was stand on the opposite side of a trap and wait for them to dash through it. Nine times out of ten, it worked exactly as I planned.
On the off chance an enemy did work his way to me, combat consisted mostly of bashing him with my shield to drop his guard, slashing him a few times, and then dodging out of the way of any other attackers. Once an enemy takes enough damage, they become vulnerable to executions triggered by the right trigger. Activating an execution triggers a QTE sequence (gah!) where an enemy outline glows a specific color. Your job is to hit the button of the corresponding color - Yellow for Y, Blue for X. Missing an entry is no big deal, you still beat he snot out of them in a brutal fashion. However, inputting it correctly rewards you with a typically gory and violent attack. Examples include slicing off limbs, curb stomping, and shield slamming in the throat like your name is Captain America. Good family fun, rated M for Mature...
As a whole, Ryse: Son of Rome was a lot of fun to play, even if it wasn't particularly challenging. I wouldn't call it a system seller, but I imagine the arena mode could be a lot of fun in CO-OP.
Caveat upfront - I don't typically like car games. They have very little replay value for me since I seldom enjoy doing the same thing multiple times. That said, I enjoyed Forza 5 just for the experience of driving. The graphics were very nice, and I actually enjoyed being blinded by the sun glare at times.
I am not familiar with the series, and my own racing game experience is limited to Mario Kart and Need for Speed, but it felt pretty realistic. I needed to ease up on the gas to turn around corners, or else I went barreling into the grass.
For me personally, not a system seller. However, if I was a racing fan, I could see this being a game to get behind. Either way, it did a good job showing off the vibration functionality of the Xbox One controller, especially when I swerved off the track (which was often).
There were several games that I didn't have time to play. Below are some of the impressions I had based on graphical performance at the displays for two of the other big names at the event.
Dead Rising 3